More Cameras Coming

Smile next time you drive on 15-501. According to the Chapel Hill Herald they'll soon be taking your picture at the intersection with Europa Drive/Erwin Road as well as at Sage Road/Old Durham-Chapel Hill Road.

If you think this is as silly as I do, please join Will Raymond to support his petition at The Chapel Hill Town Council meeting Monday night at 7 pm. (It's early on the agenda!) If you can't make it, drop them an e-mail instead.

For the month of October, a total of 32 citations were issued for red-light violations that the cameras caught at the Airport Road/Estes Drive intersection, and 121 citations were issued for the U.S. 15-501/Sage Road intersection, according to a report from the town.

Honestly, does the "problem" of people runninng red lights even appear on anyone's top list of Chapel Hill's problems?



Eric, I was especially hoping you could share a real-world appeal process with us, as a legal expert you have an unique perspective.

What are their motives? I assume that they want to make Chapel Hill safer and that they're stuck on RLCs as the ONLY way to do it. Why do they continue to push RLCs as this ONLY solution, I don't know, do you?

I'm interpreting their actions over what they've said ("Esse Quam Videri") and, whatever their motivation, the engineers appear to be pushing RLCs over any other solution.

First, I know at least one of the engineers actively promoted RLCs as "the solution" over any other traditional solutions. Using RLCs wasn't thrust upon him, instead, he pushed for them. Wouldn't this make him a stake holder?

Second, the department has been stone-walling for over 18 months. When given opportunity after opportunity to answer substantive questions about this program (many of which were 'ripped from today's headlines'), they almost always either refused, dodged or weakly responded. Mr. Neppalli did an execellent job answering a few of my specific queries, supplying detail and verifying my assertions. If there is no bias towards this system, no fear that the "truth will hurt", why not answer a few more of these questions in that same clear, direct, detailed and verifiable fashion? Why continue to drag their feet?

Third, when asked to produce the traffic studies and the methodologies they used for these studies, they again dodged (I was directed to read the "sales brochure" web site). The engineers continue to say that the deployment of these RLCs is based on good engineering principles, so, specifically, for our town, what are they? They already have made choices, including using "citations generated" as a baseline for measuring success, that are out of line with NHSTA and ITRE recommendations, why did they do that?

Fourth, when challenged to provide alternative means to correct potential problems, they continue to promote RLCs (including numerous times in the press) as the only way to go. Again, if "safety is job one" and given more than the two years this has been percolating through the 'system', why were no other cost-effective (cheap!), traditional fixes applied? This would've reduced all classes of accidents, including the +%90 rear-ending/side-swipe, instead of a narrow ( <%2) pedestrian/"t-bone" while we waited on the RLCs. It was completely within their venue to do so, why not act?

Fifth, why site two of the RLCs at two of the most confusing intersections in town? Are these the worst?

Hard to say since we're still waiting on the 5-year report for all 97 town-controlled RL intersections.

Sixth, in spite of technical problems with the system, the mis-step of setting the trigger times lower than ITRE and NHSTA recommends as minimum, the recalcitrance of ACS is assisting them (let alone, assisting in the answering of substantive questions), they, again, continue to push the system, deploying the 15-501/Europa RLC. With all the problems, why not recommend a slow down in the deployment?

Finally, on Election Day, someone approached me and told me that there was a plan to have 7 RLCs by the end of the year (Raleigh has 8 currently). I have yet to confirm this (again, stone-walling), but seven of ten deployed RLCs, with all the problems we're already experiencing and before the new council is seated, would definitely constitute a land-grab. What's the rush if safety and getting it right are the prime motivators?

Eric, with all this, what does motivate them to keep pushing RLCs? I don't absolutely know, I can only interpret their actions. Maybe they will answer one day.

In WIll Raymond's initial message in this thread, he wrote the following: "Unfortunately, it appears that the guys running the program are ready to do a pre-emptive strike or land grab and deploy as many cameras as they can in the next 2 months. The two town engineers were there and they did not look happy. I guess they thought they could stealth this into the town with no opposition, sorry guys."

The town engineers are just trying to fulfill the mandate of the council to which they are responsible. I understand that you are opposed to the program for a variety of reasons. But I don't understand why you also ascribe nefarious motives ("land grab," "pre-emptive strike," "stealth," "as many ... as they can") to a couple of guys who are just trying to do their job. That's really unfair.

Todd, wow, you're on a red-light camera promotion tour! Have any sponsors? The same letter in two papers and your blog continuing to push the same stats that I thought you already agreed were misleading. Yet you continue. Strange.

Obscuring your plate is a maximum no-no. No reason to conduct your affairs in the same 'law be damned' fashion as the red-light camera system does.

Why not push for traditional fixes with the same vigor as you're pushing for ACS? If we implemented these fixes we could reduce all classes of accidents, not just the ones that are MINIMALLY (<%2) happening in our community. Oh, and they have the dual advantage of preserving our due process rights and having a persistent, long-term effect (unlike the RLCs).


1) My only sponsor is PhotoBlocker, who gave me 25 cents for you clicking on the banner, and would pay me 15% if anyone is silly enough to buy the can of $30 spray paint that I am told works. Please notice my site is clearly labled satire.

2) This is about the 10th time I have sent the same letter to both papers and they have printed it. Freedom of the press bebe.

3) I never said the statistics that I quote from AAA and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are did.

4) I am not advocating PhotoBlocker, I am pulling your pud. I think you are doing the same back to some degree.

5) I did say in a previous post that I agree with California's AAA bill which prevents vendors like ACS from being paid per ticket. That is the one valid point I agree with you on. We agree on one point--a vendor should not profit per click on this system as it gives them an incentive to nail people. I would also not support police officers getting commissions on each ticket they issue.

Nuff said... I am getting bored with this issue. Hopefully I can buy a pizza and coke with all the money I make from PhotoBlocker.


WillR asked about my experience as a hearing officer in the SafeLight program: how many appeals I've heard, what the basis for the appeals has been, how many people I've let off the hook, etc.

The answer is that I've heard no appeals, and won't hear any. I've resigned from the program.

As I understand it, there have been two appeals so far. I did not handle either of them, and don't know how they went or what the outcomes were.

Always preview your posts.

That first sentence should read:

"I think that if handing over to ACS 96% of fines collected ends up being a net loss to the town -- that is, the 4% the town gets doesn't equal the amount that the town was already collecting directly themselves ...

Make your plates unreadable by red light cameras...


I think that if handing over 96% of fines collected ends up being a net loss to the town -- that is, doesn't equal the amount that the town was already collecting directly themselves -- then the town is in effect investing in the cameras. If the cameras made intersections safer, perhaps that would be a good investment. But if that question is still unresolved, and we don't have any mechanism in place to measure their effectiveness, then it's not such a good investment. Especially if the cameras don't work very well. What are they using, disposables?


Are you certain that Chapel Hill "invested" in the cameras? I would think the revenue sharing agreement with the vendor would cover the hard costs? If not, I agree that is a scam.


Mr. Muller, would you care to share your experience with red-light camera appeals? How many people have come before you to appeal?

What are the grounds for the appeal? Have any invoked the 'snitch' clause? Anyone concerned about the low trigger tolerances? What additional information have defendants asked for? Was it provided in a timely matter? Have you let anyone off the hook? If so, what grounds did they use?

Wondering about libertarians and cameras whilst drudging here at the Ministry.

What usually tics Ls off most, other than unnecessary government interference in private lives, is wasteful spending and comfy contracts to governement insiders.

Not only were we sold out, but sold out for ineffectively applied ineffective procedures.

The real Libertarian solution and the cheaper more effective and less invasive one that focuses on saving lives instead of 'catching cheaters' =

increased yellow, overlapping red times, and larger lenses on red lights. All proven life savers.

See the Ministry's favorite actors in action:

Your harmless drudge at the Ministry of Truth,


Because not only is the Town *paying* a third party to invade our privacy, they're not even getting the product they thought they were paying for. They claimed that this product, our "safety," would justify the monetary and civil cost of the project, but we're not even getting that supposed benefit.

Honored to have you posting here, Eric!

I don't get it. How can a person simultaneously be worried about the horrible civil liberties ramifications of red light cameras and outraged that the pictures are fuzzy?

Ruby, I'm glad you put the "caught" in quotes. I'm writing a letter in response to Todd's and Mr. Clapp's pointing out that the tolerances are set so low that the system issues a citation when a law enforcement officer wouldn't. My new attempt to "size" the differential is to point out that if this system was issuing citations for speeding, it would be doing so for a few tenths of a mile above the posted limit, instead, as the NC-HP says "a clear-cut and substantial violation."

Even if the pictures were crystal clear, the fact they've set the trigger times to .3 instead of .5 secs just shows how desperate they are to generate citations (even blurry ones). And what about all the technician generated citations? They are constantly trying to recalibrate those suckers.

With all these calibration problems, both intentional and not, and the problem Mr. Neppalli is encountering getting solid answers from ACS (I KNOW HOW THAT FEELS), I can't see how the other council members keep supporting this. It's especially irksome as all this was foreseeable about 2 years ago.

I find it interesting that Mr. Clapp was willing to so easily dispense with what he calls "personal rights". I'm surprised that in the land of the Regulators, the due process issue gets such short shrift.

OK, now I'm REALLY pissed off. The latest news ( ) is that the camera at Airport & Estes "caught" a number of infractions, but the pictures they took were so blurry that they couldn't issue citations. In fact, the majority of violators at all locations in Chapel Hill are not getting citations.

HOW IS THIS ACCEPTABLE? Why are we paying for this?

Thanks to Mayor Foy for pointing out that accuracy isn't even the main problem: "My objection has been that we don't need more cameras recording Americans' daily activities. And number two, it's a question whether this is really a safety measure."

And how many times per week do you beat your wife?

Will, I never agreed I am trading ANY of your rights, and do not agree they are being violated. Your comment/question at the end is leading.


Todd, I appreciate the response. Unfortunate timing, I guess. Of course, one of the main problems I have with your letter involves the inflamatory use of national statistics. In our community, one fatality happened in the last five years at the three covered intersections and that do to drunk driving. When the scammers push this system, they use these stats you presented (as I noted before, no longer accurate). They never break them out due to DUI (a major portion) and other 'non-scofflaw' reasons. Also, if you'll note, the type of accident, 't-bone' , the type this system is supposed to help prevent, doesn't account for all the fatalities quoted.

Side-swipe and rear-end accidents are the predominant (+ %90) type of accidents at OUR intersections, most involving Class C injuries or less. Fatalities are not a problem in OUR community.

Obviously, you are free to trade away your protections, but, Todd, what is the threshold you're willing to trade MY rights for a little perceived safety? Right now, it seems very low. How much more cheapening of the principles on which our country was founded are you willing to accept in my, my family's and my friend's names?

I sent the letter to the papers same day I posted it on this site and my own. While I have conceded you make some decent points, in the end I would keep the cameras. I would also consider some legislation like they have in CA that would address some of your valid concerns and issues.


Scam - a shameful, unfair, untrustworthy activity, especially one for making money.

Duncan, I agree with your financial analysis and subsequent observation of the disincentive ACS has to fix anything; I don't with your dispensing this as not both a bill of rights AND a safety issue.

Chapel Hill should take these guys challenge. Who know, maybe we'll be the one community that wins.

Todd, I thought you conceded my points. Why not acknowledge them in your HeraldSun letter?

Would someone explain to me whether this quote from the Chapel Hill Herald is correct, and if so how it can be possible that the Town will ever get any money from this arrangement with ACS:

"According to the town's contract with ACS, the town gets $2 from each $50 payment, for the first 1,750 payments collected each month. The town's share increases to $21.50 for payments 1,751 to 3,500 per month, and to $26.50 for payment 3,501 and beyond."

How does that square with the fact that our police officers were writing 300 tickets _a year_? Is it reasonable to expect that these cameras will ever get to the point where they're writing more than 1,750 _a month_? If they don't ever write that many in a month, and I don't see how they can, the raw number of such tickets that ACS would have to write during the course of a year would be 7,500 in order for the town to break even on the deal, a 2,400% increase. (This is based on last year's 300 human-generated tickets; to account for the cost of administering those tickets, let's be conservative and call the magic number 7,000, just for the sake of argument.). Based on the number of tickets they've written so far, is there any hope ACS will ever write that many tickets in a year?

My guess is that they won't write enough tickets, and so the program is a net financial loss to the town, and a net gain for ACS. In effect, the town is paying ACS for the cameras without ever actually owning them. Now that's a GREAT business plan, and it clears up a lot for me. I'd always puzzled over the idea that a company would build a business plan on the idea that they would seek to deter and ultimately prevent the very thing that makes them money, namely red-light running. That' seemed like being in the dairy business and killing the cows that produce milk.

But ACS is in the business of selling things, specifically cameras. Sure, there's no actual transation or bill of sale, which is the brilliance of it! They sell you on the idea that they're making your intersections a lot safer and relieving the town of some portion of its administrative overhead, while installing expensive cameras that the town pays for in lost fine collections, and which continue to generate money for the company long after they've paid for themselves. Whether or not they actually deter red-light runners, or whether they deter them as well as some traffic calming devices -- like longer yellow lights and all-red transition periods, which would cost the town bupkus-- is beside the point for the company. Even so, the business plan is so brilliant that they've actually _hedged_ against the possibility that they're even a little successful by front-loading their percentage at 96% for the first 1,750 tickets, a really high threshold number.

I don't think this is a civil rights issue. I think this is an issue of the town being snookered. I think we should have tried some of the low-cost or no-cost solutions first -- that would have been fiscally prudent and conservative. And I certainly would have established some baseline data on red-light running in this town, and a method of checking to see how effective the cameras are as deterrents.

Todd, Sally Greene's much more eloquent disputation is here

You make some good points that I will not argue with.

On the other hand, we have lost more Americans from red light running, than from fighting in Iraq in the last year. Even if the 40% estimated reduction is a huge stretch, 10% would be 80 saved lives per year, and even more injuries and damage.

I am willing to give up any potential margin of error these cameras introduce to save the lives.


I just found this information about how CA reformed the use of red light cameras using legislation backed by AAA. I back these reforms as a way to avoid many of the problems others have outlined about these cameras, while keeping them.


Todd, there was one loss of life, due to RLR and DUI, at these intersections in the last 5 years. What other rights are you willing to cede to possibly save one life? If you start chipping away at our protections for a scam system that doesn't address the two biggest type accidents at OUR intersections, rear-ending and oblique side-swipes, what else are you will you trade them away for? In my case, the extremely small POTENTIAL benefit does not even begin to justify the ceding of my, my family's and my friend's rights. As far as CA, the system they're trying to fix has both police and criminal court oversights, and that still isn't sufficient.

In Maryland, the AAA debunked the system, so there isn't nationwide agreement.

Finally, why fix the statute? Why not study the intersections and fix them using non-rights-infringing methods? These methods have been shown to almost always remove the underlying problem, are usually very inexpensive to implement and protect against the full range of potential RLR accidents.

Todd, assuming you aren't just trolling for an argument, here's my response.

While deploying surveillance cameras everywhere is creepy (Surveillance Society ), there are even greater concerns than the privacy argument. For example, the vendor can alter the evidence, you can't get evidence involving mis-calibration (a significant issue), proceedings aren't recorded, notifications are delayed, etc. I would be happy to provide numerous examples of how this auto-enforcement system violates our normal expecation of due process and definitely steps on our 4th, 5th, 6th and 14th amendment protections.

If you aren't concerned about trading away your constitutional gaurantees so that a company, with a financial disincentive to fix the problem, can skim %96 of the revenue generated, you might at least want the system to do what it's advertised to do. Unfortunately, it clearly doesn't.

This system is designed to decrease a particular type of accident, a 't-bone' type. You quoted the worse case years for accidents, later studies have shown a marked decrease in the national accident rate, but forget national, what of Chapel Hill?

In the last 5 years at the 3 intersections covered, there's been 93 of 142 accidents were rear-enders. This is the type that scientific studies clearly have shown to increase with this type system. Only 25 of 142 could be construed as 't-bone'. Of all accidents, there was only one fatality, this due to drunken driving. Of the 25 't-bone' accidents, the injuries were mostly minor. Of all the accidents involving any type of injuries (59 of 142), %97 resulted in Class C injuries (minor), %2.5 in Class B, 1 only fatality (DUI) and 1 Class A. Do these statistics indicate we have a rampant problem? Obviously not. Just compare to Charlotte, which implemented the scamera system only when they had a problem several magnitudes above this (remember we're getting 10 covered intersections, Charlotte had 21, Raleigh is getting 15-20).

Let's posit there is some kind of problem (just for fun, there isn't, but for sake of argument....). ITRE, the group the town brought in to provide the appearance of objectivity, recommends that before installing a system a municipality do a thorough study of intersections. Chapel Hill didn't do this. They further recommend that the problems, if any, FIRST be corrected using traditional methods. Not only didn't the town do the rigorous studies to establish a safety baseline (which FHA-NHSTA also recommends), they didn't try any standard fixes. Most RLRs involve reasons beyond willful action, and these standard remediations almost always correct those type problems. Why RUSH to the cameras, in spite of all the recommendations of those organizations that actually promote its use? Why not implement traditional fixes that would've decrease ALL categories of accidents, instead of installing this rights-infringing, for-profit (at least to ACS), narrow-coverage, system?

OK, I know you don't want to hear about how people don't run red-lights in Chapel Hill, but.....

Citations are neither a measure of success or a measure of a problem. The FHA-NHSTA and others make this extremely clear, going as far as to warn implementers "DO NOT TO USE CITATIONS AS A MEASURE OF SUCCESS". Instead, a baseline is first to be established using standard methodologies (whoops, didn't do that), expectations of improvement developed (lower accident rate, etc.) and then follow-up studies performed (nope, no plan for that either). Worse, our town plans to use citations as a measure of success!

But why shouldn't the 200 citations generated be used as a gross measure? Because the number citations generated is easy to manipulate and are issued when a police officer wouldn't of done the same. The system tolerance (set to .3 seconds, again, against ITRE, FHA minimums) is so low, that essentially violations reflect a mistake of inches instead of feet, so to say. NC-HP put's it very well in their policy when the say "Clear-cut and substantial violations" not "marginal" or "technical" violations.

In several jurisdictions, these citations have been challenged because of this 'equal protection' argument. A Baltimore judge has questioned their legitimacy by pointing out that, at best, a police officer couldn't detect a violation of less that .5 seconds. This is important, since studies show that the vast majority of these "technical" violations are generated at 0 to .3 seconds.

And, of course, there's the whole issue of how easy it is to manipulate the number of citations generated because of the way the engineers evaluate the candidates. And, back to due process, there's no published, reviewable, objective guidelines for our new unsworn law enforcing traffic engineers to follow, unlike normal traffic laws and policies.

Finally, to close with an observation about our fine police force. I couldn't believe the insinuation I heard recently that they're doing a worse job monitoring these intersections because of the number of citations the gave out for RLR went from about 450 3 years ago to about 300 last year.

What an insult! They might actually have given out fewer because there were fewer, but that kind of undercuts the sales-hype surrounding the push to deploy.

Further, this highlights why we use 'humans' instead of 'machines' to enforce our laws. A human officer has discretion. They don't act as a knee-jerk, rubber stamping, zero tolerance automaton but instead use their training to discriminate between a RLR that might have a legitimate cause (the huge SUV about to barrel into someone’s rear-end) from those that don't. And, of course, when they see a reckless or drunk driver, they'll get them off the street, not take a pretty picture.

To sum up, clear due process infringements, no rigorous studies to establish the depth of the problem, no attempts to fix problems using standard methods, a rush to install a for-profit enforcement system which doesn't provide any concrete fixes, all operating with little or no oversight and no published procedures or guidelines.

Red light cameras save lives

While the new Chapel Hill Town Council rushes off to veto red light cameras, I would like them to consider the following:

According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Each year more than 800 people die and an estimated 200,000-plus are injured in crashes that involve red light running. Total deaths in such crashes numbered almost 6,000 during 1992-98. More than half of these deaths were pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles who were hit by the red light runners. Another 2,779 deaths occurred in the vehicles running the red lights. During the same time period (1992-98), about 1,500,000 people were injured in such crashes.”

The same study concludes that red light cameras “reduce red light running by about 40 percent, Institute research has found.”

I do not want to hear the argument that people do not run red lights in Chapel Hill, because 200 tickets have been issued thanks to the new cameras.

While I understand the cameras are not perfect, either are police officers who can also misjudge your actions. The big brother argument is ridiculous, these are not video cameras in your bedroom!


Todd Melet

Will, et al.

For clarification, your petition was not referred to staff. Instead it was merely received, which means nothing will be done. I voted against the motion. Then I moved to have the petition received and referred. My motion was defeated. The motion to receive was made again and then passed over my objection.

Thanks Mark. It seemed like a little bit of chaos creapt in there.

So, I guess the race is on to see how many cameras will be deployed in the next two months under cover of the holidays.

Is that it for business this year?

It's not over yet! I suspected, and this Herald article confrirms, that the new Council will be much less friendly to red-light cameras. Try again in January...

Ruby, thanks for the heads up. The DTH had a similar article yesterday. Unfortunately, they have this editorial today. I spoke with a representative of the editorial board yesterday and was somewhat surprised by how little he knew of the issue, its context, problems and background. I asked on what grounds they decided this was a good thing, but he really couldn't say. Considering the excellent , well researched, coverage the DTH had during the local elections and on the red-light camera problem, this vagueness was unexpected.

Editorial aside, I'll be monitoring the system over the next couple months, analyzing and 'reporting on' the stats as they come out. Also, the town and ACS are still on the hook as far as answering the open questions I submitted.

I'll be keeping the heat on, but without the council's intervention, I'm afraid the race is on to deploy as many of these cameras as possible before the new council is seated.

If anyone is interested, here's a quick recap of tonights action.

Opening remark:

Mayor, Town Council, Mr. Horton,

Thank you for the patience and courtesy you've shown over the last 18 months. And thank you for redirecting the town staff and ACS to, this time with full vigor, answer the critical questions I and others have brought before you. I look forward to their taking the care and attention I know they're capable of in answering fully, specifically, with verifiable detail.


Until these critical questions are answered:

1) Suspend enforcement at the two covered intersections.

2) Don't enable the system at 15-501/Europa.

3) Finish current studies and implement, as per ITRE recommendations, traditional fixes at problem intersections.

4) Defer any additional deployments or substantive changes until Feb. 2004

After this, I went on to present evidence of $500k+ error in Los Angeles, of the ITRE recommendations to study the problem and apply traditional fixes, their other to use at least .4 seconds or more (instead of the .3 that they're set at now), the NC HP requirement that violations be 'clear cut' and 'substantial' (not inches, but feet, so to say), of the multiple class actions going on in CA involving ACS, etc. I also reiterated that the town didn't do its due diligence, studying the problem (as per ITRE and FHA-NHSTA) at the end.

3 minutes is in no way enough time.

After I finished, this petition was referred to staff. When given the choice to act immediately upon it, there was somewhat of a muddle, but I believe the Harrison, Whiggins, Verkerk and Evans nixed it. In the confusion, I'm not sure that Bateman and Ward actually voted against it. I guess because it was referred it will come up again.

I know one thing for sure, I will not be appearing before this council ever again.

Unfortunately, it appears that the guys running the program are ready to do a pre-emptive strike or land grab and deploy as many cameras as they can in the next 2 months. The two town engineers were there and they did not look happy. I guess they thought they could stealth this into the town with no opposition, sorry guys.

Maybe the council will act upon the petition two weeks from now, after the staff bats it around, hard to tell. Here's hoping.

When I started this trek, I was naive enough to believe that cold hard facts and matters of principle would be sufficient to reverse their decision, now I know better.


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